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In the field
Lawsuits threaten traditional outdoor activities

By Ken Bailey
Outdoors Editor

(Feb 1): Sportsmen and women, and the many activities they enjoy, continue to be targets of anti-hunting, anti-trapping and anti-fishing groups.

The tactics used by many of these groups have changed in recent years, with less emphasis on public demonstrations and more on creating havoc through frivolous lawsuits.

One such lawsuit was filed last fall against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife concerning the status of the Canada Lynx.

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, affiliated with the U.S Sportsmen’s Alliance, filed to represent sportsmen in Maine in this precedent-setting lawsuit brought by animal activists to derail hunting, fishing and trapping for abundant game wherever endangered or threatened species exist.

The Canada lynx is the subject of a lawsuit that could threaten other hunting and trapping activities in Maine. (Image courtesy of Corel Corp.)

On Jan. 4, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation asked U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. for permission to join a federal lawsuit brought by the Animal Protection Institute against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

In October 2006, the animal rights group sued to expand endangered and threatened species protections to healthy and abundant wildlife populations.

"Our goal is to prevent the animal rights movement from manipulating the Endangered Species Act to ban hunting, fishing and trapping," said Rob Sexton, USSAF vice president for government affairs. "The case could set a precedent that affects the future of hunting, fishing and trapping and how they are used as wildlife management tools."

At issue is the legal argument brought by anti-hunters that trapping of any species should be banned in order to prevent the possibility of inadvertently catching federally protected Canada lynx, bald eagles and gray wolves. Years of data compiled by Maine biologists have yet to prove this to be a problem.

"It is important for sportsmen to understand this lawsuit represents far more than a strike against a single sport," said Sexton. "The trappers won’t be the only ones impacted. If antis can stop all trapping in a place where there is a risk of catching a Canada Lynx, they can just as easily try to stop fishing in bodies of water where there is a risk of catching an endangered species of sturgeon."

This lawsuit also treads on states’ long-standing authority to manage fish and wildlife. An unfavorable decision would virtually require judges to close hunting, fishing and trapping.

As the Maine case develops, the USSAF continues to defend sportsmen’s rights in two nearly identical lawsuits brought against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. They also would set dangerous precedents that put traditional hunting, fishing and trapping activities in jeopardy.

The USSAF has filed to join the Maine case, along with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine Trappers Association, Fur Takers of America, and individual sportsmen Oscar Cronk, Donald Dudley and Alvin Theriault.

Age a barrier to hunting?

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and other hunting advocacy organizations have launched new campaigns in a number of states to tear down age and other barriers that prevent people from hunting. Could Maine be next in line?

The effort is part of the national Families Afield campaign, established by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation to urge states to review and eliminate unnecessary hunting age restrictions and ease hunter education mandates.

The Families Afield program will introduce more youngsters to hunting and fishing. In the fall of 2005, Vincent Forzetting of Lincolnville took his first deer with a bow. (Photo by Angelo Forzetting)

Legislation addressing these concerns is being prepared and introduced in 2007 in California, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and its partners have been consulting with state officials and sportsmen’s leaders to craft legislation that addresses the specific needs of the five states, while removing and reducing unnecessary restrictions on hunting.

The National Rifle Association is backing the bills in North and South Dakota, and is expected to join the effort in the remaining states. The groups advocate the concept that newcomers to outdoor sports should have the opportunity to experience hunting before making large investments of time and money in equipment and training.

"These states are taking bold first steps to ensure hunting traditions continue to be passed on to the next generation," said Chris Dolnack, NSSF senior vice president. "Our Families Afield partnership with the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and National Wild Turkey Federation is squarely aimed at helping to eliminate barriers to entry and to increase opportunities for participation. It will truly make a difference for the future of hunting."

To date, Families Afield legislation and regulations have been approved in 12 states. Two of those states, Michigan and Ohio, established apprentice hunting programs. First-year results appear extremely promising. More than 17,500 apprentice licenses were sold in Michigan, plus more than 9,500 in Ohio, during 2006. These 27,000 new hunters suggest a 33 percent jump in the two states' combined population of hunters age 15 and younger.

Families Afield was developed after results of a study, called the Youth Hunting Report, showed that youngsters are less likely to take up hunting in states that have more restrictive requirements for youth participation. However, states that have removed barriers to youth hunting have a much higher youth recruitment rate.

Studies have also shown that supervised youth are the safest class of hunters.

"Hunting is a remarkably safe sport to begin with, and hunting accidents are even rarer in states where parents decide at what age their children are allowed to hunt," said Dolnack. "Another up-side to an early introduction is the fact that youth who are permitted to try hunting at an early age are more likely to continue their involvement in the sport, which would help reverse the trend of declining sportsman numbers."

Sportsmen and women are encouraged to support the Families Afield bills in their state legislatures. To make grassroots action easy, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance features the Legislative Action Center on its website, The resource allows visitors to find and send messages to their lawmakers.

The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation work nationwide, representing more than 1.5 million sportsmen through member clubs and individual constituents. The organizations provide legislative, legal defense and public education services to defend and advance sportsmen's rights in Washington, D.C. and in all 50 states.

All anglers and hunters have the responsibility to introduce youngsters into outdoor activities at an early age. Today, hunting, fishing and other traditional outdoor activities compete against video games and web-surfing for our youths’ attention. Once introduced, children can then make decisions later in life on what activities are important to them.

The future of traditional outdoor activities is in the hands of today’s computer generation. How will it end up?

Have a safe week in your part of the great outdoors.

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